‘Vagabond Wines of beer’ to champion ‘sorely undervalued’ Belgian brews in UK

Shoreditch pop-up Taste This Beer London, which likens itself to the Vagabond Wines of the beer scene, is looking to promote Belgian beer in Britain with “the largest self-pour tap collection in the UK”.

Image: Taste This Beer London

Founder of Taste This Beer London Ciaran Gold is looking for a permanent site for his business after receiving an “overwhelmingly positive reaction” during a trial period in January.

A former journalist and editor, Gold told the drinks business that he believes that Belgian beer “is sorely undervalued in the UK”.

After visiting Brussels in 2015, he was inspired by the city’s beer tasting venues.

“I had been to Brussels in 2015 as part of my honeymoon and had a fantastic beer flight on the Grand Place, enjoying a great selection of Belgian beers. We returned in July 2017 on holiday and I hoped to do the same, but the place I was looking for was closed,” he said.

“I was disappointed and as I was exploring my wife happened to spot a beer tasting place. I walked in, was immediately hooked by the concept and got speaking to the manager, my now business partner”.

Rather like UK independent wine shop chain, Vagabond Wines, Taste This Beer London allows customers to sample the drinks on tap using a top-up card.

“It’s an easy reference point for people to understand us more than anything – the self serve aspect,” said Gold.

Gold and his business partner have developed a new, bespoke system for dispensing the beer that “is far more interactive than just plonking a card down and pressing a button”.

“There’s a skill to pouring a beer,” added Gold. “Our information screens are far more interactive and allow you to read about what you’re drinking in five languages”.

The screens display information on the beer style, brewer, alcohol content (ABV) and level of bitterness (IBU). The self-service taps also have built-in glass cleaners allowing uses to wash out their glasses between drinks.

Image: Taste This Beer London

“We settled on 1/3 pint servings as it meant you could get a decent taste without committing to too much, while also ensuring your serving remains cold and as the brewer intended it to taste throughout,” Gold added.

Taste This Beer London boasts 32 self pour taps which Gold says is “the largest self pour tap collection in the UK”.

Asked whether he would consider extending the concept beyond Belgian beer, he stated that the UK and American craft beer markets were already saturated.

“I would never say never, but you can’t move for UK/American craft beers a the moment and there are plenty of places providing excellent repertoires, so it’s not something we are really looking into at the moment,” he said.

As a result, he believes his ability to bring beers to the UK “that have never been drunk on draught or in bottle this side of the English Chanel” sets his company apart from the rest.

He admits narrowing down the selection was quite a challenge. “With more than 1,600 beers coming from the country in over 20 distinct styles, it was difficult but we want the experience to be accessible from beer beginners to connoisseurs”.

He included pilsner and hoppy IPA type brews “for people who did not want to vary too far away from what they might normally have in the pub”. Gold also noted that the several fruit beers on offer, for the people “who don’t really like beer,” proved “a great introduction, particularly for women who for whatever reason did not often/ever drink beer”.

He also provided a selection of more classic Belgian style beers including dubbels, blondes, lambics and sours “that were exclusive to get on tap in the UK”. In total, Taste This Beer London served 40 different beers to customers in January.

“We have direct relationships with lots of small breweries so we could bring in some UK exclusives,” added Gold.

As for his future plans, Gold is taking stock and going over the figures following the January pop-up. He told db that he’s had “considerable interest from various parties” and is looking for a permanent site in the near future, exploring the possibility of serving Belgian food along with the beer.

“It’s safe to say we’re developing a more comprehensive and holistic approach to ‘Brand Belgium’,” he added.

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